Image: Bridge Hotel, - A Calais update


Alex Holmes updates us once again on the situation on the ground in Calais in this week's blog.  

I was in Calais and it was registering minus four degrees. There was a roundabout under the motorway ironically known as “Bridge Hotel”. It is where the Eritrean refugee community had sheltered since 2017. But mid-morning, word came through that the police had cleared the Eritreans from under the bridges. We observed workmen in white protective suits and facemasks pile sleeping bags and blankets into a truck.
“The police wouldn’t even allow me to get my medication from under the bridge,” Merhawi told us. He’s recovering from a broken leg after falling from a lorry.
His friend Fikru shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “No problem, when you have God, everything is ok.”
But nearby, tempers frayed. Two young guys either side of a big bundle of salvaged bedding faced each other off in a fierce argument. Across the road, more security barriers were rising.  A three-metre high reinforced concrete wall was nearing completion around “Belgium Parking”. This added to the razor wire, moat and metal fencing already “protecting” the site from refugee access to the lorries that park there.
At “Belgium Parking” in early December, a young Eritrean, Semere, was helped into a small trailer attached to a van. He hoped to reach the UK, but the van went east, and he disappeared. Silence. Six weeks later he was tracked to a hospital in Lille. Police reported that he was found in a coma beside the road and his injuries didn’t equate with jumping from a vehicle. A criminal investigation has begun.
Roger Salengro Hospital in Lille, where Semere is being treated, is a vast complex of buildings. Mebratu came with us to identify his friend.
“He slept behind me under the bridge,” he explained.
In the neurology department on the first floor, we donned thin blue gowns and were led along corridors to Semere’s room. Still in a coma, his blinking eyes darted here and there. It was impossible to know if his brain was registering anything. He had movement in his left hand, but his right arm lay motionless on the bed. Oxygen was fed through his nose, liquid food through a hole in his throat. Mebratu confirmed it was Semere and gave hospital staff more information.
Visibly shocked, he wiped away a tear. We stayed a while, prayed, held Semere’s hand, and left, heartened by the news that each day there was a slight improvement in his condition.
The road from Lille back into Calais circles the “Bridge Hotel”. Two white vans filled with CRS* officers were parked on the verge. There would be no return there for the refugees. Across from the roundabout, the Calais town sign is emblazoned with four scarlet flowers; Calais, ville fleurie, it boasts, a town in bloom. As the light faded, a huddle of five young Eritreans stood around the sign watching the passing vehicles, some with UK plates. I prayed.
*CRS, Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, the French Riot Police

Image: Marian Action


John McConville writes our latest blog and tells us of the work 'Marian Action' do with the homeless and marginalised in Glasgow.  

Marian Action is a movement that aims to bring the maternal joy and love of Mary to the marginalised. It does this primarily through its spirituality, the members gathering together weekly to pray about the work, and for those whom we come in contact with.

We also have our special prayer, the Angelus, which the members say daily in order to bring Mary's blessing on the movement. The blessings we receive from this spirituality are taken into our work, which currently consists of organising social evenings in two of Glasgow's centres for homeless people, and also organising periodical coffee mornings for the wider homeless community.
Taking into account the fact that Jesus, during His time on earth, spent a great deal of time amongst the downtrodden of society, it seems to me only natural that He would want His love, and that of His mother, to be brought to the most marginilised of society, and indeed that is what struck me most of all when I first got involved with the group- as a youngster back in the 1970s, and also in seeing how the men responded so positively to the care and attention being shown to them by what was then, in a main, a group of young people.
And indeed these many blessings have continued during the years, and indeed decades in which Jesus has used our various services to reach His marginilised- many of our members have remarked on how gratifying it is to be thanked at the end of one of our social nights, and that in fact the gratitude of the people could teach the wider community a thing or two about genuine sincerity.
One example which comes to mind is a lady, who was resident at the women's hostel in Inglefield St. for many years, and who was usually the life and soul of the party, particularly at Christmas, but actually admitted that, in the early days of our work, our social nights had stopped her from commiting suicide.
Marian Action has been in existence since 1972, orginally working in the old council-run hostels. We started by organising bingo nights, but eventually our mission evolved into offering shaving, haircutting, serving Christmas dinners, and other related events. The haircutting and shaving actually came about when we were asking God to show us if there was something else He wanted us to do. At  Broad St. hostel one night, our then president was approached by a man who asked if he could cut his hair. When our president replied that he hadn't done anything like that before, the man told him him to "just f*** well cut it". We took that to be a sign from God!

Over many years, we carried out these activities at ten different hostels. We found that the services we offered the people were always well-received, and there are many examples of this having a positive influence on peoples' lives.
After the council hostels closed in the early 2000s, we took our work into Aspire Housing, Partick, and the Talbot Association, Garnethill, where once again Marian Action has been well received by the people.
We realise that our work is but a drop in the ocean in the universal need for God's love to be given in both a practical and emotional way, that there are so many people throughout the world who have been involved in giving of themselves to God's marginilised- people like Mother Theresa, Abbe Pierre of the Emmaus Community, Frederick Ozanam of the SVDP society, and many other lesser-known examples, but we hope that our efforts also contribute some way towards bringing about the advancement of Jesus' love among those who need it.
Our current spiritual base is St. Simon's, Partick, where we hold our weekly meeting on a Tuesday evening. Our hopes for the future include developing our periodic coffee mornings, and also, if possible, to take part in some form of street work- it's been brought to our attention a few times about the amount of rough sleepers there are in the Partick area where we're based, and I would like to try to reach them, possibility through distributing small food parcels, with Bible quotes attached.
This summary is only a brief account of all the many blessings which God has showered on Marian Action through our years of service to Him, as He blesses the poor man in the parable of Dives and Lazarus(Luke 16:19-31) so He blesses the poor and suffering through our efforts, and hopefully He will do so for many years to come. Marian Action is a splendid way to see how love of Jesus and Mary, expressed through both spiriuality and practical means, can transform lives. If you would like to get involved with Marian Action, please email

Image: A tale of trees for justice and peace


Both Fr Roddy Johnston, Vicar General of the Diocese of Argyll & the Isles, and parish priest of Our Holy Redeemer, Stornoway, and Marian Pallister, Justice and Peace Commissioner for Argyll and the Isles write our blog this week about the meaning and the journey from Stornoway behind the trees that commemorated the 40th anniversary of Justice and Peace Scotland.  

When the Justice and Peace Commission decided last year that we should plant trees to commemorate its 40th anniversary, I suggested consulting Fr Roddy Johnston, parish priest in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, and a former forester.
Fr Roddy’s knowledge of trees is as immense as a Scots pine and as intricate as a juniper. I knew he was the man to go to for advice. I took advantage of my visit to Lewis and Harris with the Rohingya refugee photographic exhibition to quiz him on the best trees to represent the work of Justice and Peace Scotland. He brought out a pile of books and shared a mountain of knowledge. He suggested the Scots pine for peace, the juniper for justice.
But his help didn’t stop there.
He offered to source the trees – eight (one for each diocese in Scotland) to be planted at Carfin Grotto and more so that each diocese could plant a 40th anniversary tree on home ground.
I was to transport them to the central belt, as the planting would follow closely on my next visit to Lewis and Harris – this time with my SCIAF badge in my lapel to deliver this year’s Lent talk. Fr Roddy gave me care instructions and dispatched me on the ferry with a Morrison’s bag for life containing the infant trees. I handed them over to Frances Gallagher, who organised the Carfin event (see elsewhere on the website), in the Costco car park in Glasgow’s Springburn. I felt like their mother.
And I also brought a message from Fr Roddy, who we can’t thank enough for his generosity. He says:
‘Happy 40th birthday to Justice and Peace.

There is always a need for people who care enough about the well-being of societies across the world and the Catholic Church in Scotland must continue to play an active role in promoting Justice and Peace.

As a symbol of the Church’s commitment to continuing this work, the Bishops of Scotland are planting Juniper and Pine trees. These trees are indigenous to Scotland:
  • The Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is the National Tree for Scotland and can survive in what is often a hostile environment. It was once the main species of tree in the Caledonian Forests which covered much of the Highlands.
  • The Juniper (Juniperus communis) is a tree that is seldom planted today. Its timber is not favoured as being good to work with. In myth and legend, because of the way it grows, with twists and turns, it is associated with the way life is – often meandering but always returning to what is true.
For as long as humans have been on this planet, trees have come to symbolise something special, whether it is life, health, vigour, or the spirit of something. In the Garden of Eden there was a tree of life and a tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is the hope that these trees, planted at Carfin, will be a symbol of Justice and Peace for many generations to come.

“There is always hope for a tree.” (Job 14:7)’

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